If you’ve visited the website DisruptJ20, which helped organize protests during the inauguration of Donald Trump, the Department of Justice is interested in learning more about you.
On Saturday, a judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia approved a search warrant that would require DreamHost, DisruptJ20’s provider, to turn over a wide range of information about the site and its visitors. In addition to information about the site’s creators, the DOJ demands “logs showing connections related to the website, and any other transactional information, including records of session times and duration.” In short, the government is looking for records of everyone who even visited the site, which is to say it's effectively compiling info on those who showed even a modicum of interest in protesting the administration.
DreamHost is resisting the effort. In a blog post, the company acknowledges that it has “no insight into the affidavit for the search warrant (those records are sealed).” Nevertheless, DreamHost also writes that its general counsel “has taken issue with this particular search warrant for being a highly untargeted demand that chills free association and the right of free speech afforded by the Constitution.” As it goes on to explain, turning over the requested records would mean providing 1.3 million visitor IP addresses along with “contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people.”
As ZDNet notes, “Several purported members of [DisruptJ20] were arrested for alleged violent conduct during the protests.” It links to a Washington Post article from January that claims, “Police said in court filings that the damage caused by the group was in excess of $100,000.”
In advance of the inauguration itself, however, the organizers claimed on their site laid out sweeping, but still legal, goals. “We’re planning a series of massive direct actions that will shut down the Inauguration ceremonies and any related celebrations–the Inaugural parade, the Inaugural balls, you name it,” they claimed.
DreamHost’s blog post stresses that those who came to the site in search of information about such activities had every right to do so, just as they had every right to protest the inauguration. As such, it’s not clear why the DOJ would need their IP addresses and other related data. “That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment,” the post reads. “This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.”
This is not, of course, the first time that the Trump administration has sought sweeping information about citizens. In late June, the DOJ demanded massive amounts of voter registration data, information that many states refused to provide. While that may have been part of an ongoing effort to purge voter rolls, this new warrant is troubling in part because it suggests the Trump administration is also actively gathering records about its opponents.
We’ll likely know more after a hearing about the request, currently scheduled for Friday, Aug. 18 in Washington.